FX Viewership Up 24%

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Despite some slippage by The Shield, FX is on pace to have its best-rated first quarter ever.

Through March 21, FX averaged a 1.07 household rating for first-quarter 2006, a 24% increase over the 0.9 rating garnered during the same period last year. Among its core 18-to-49 demo, the network was also up 24%, from a 0.5 rating against that group in first quarter 2005, to a 0.72 average through the aforementioned date.

The fifth season of the gritty cop series averaged a 2.3 rating (2.8 million households), down 12% from last year's 2.6 rating. The show's viewership among the 18-to-49 set also dropped to 1.8 million this season from 2 million last year.

Last season's episodes, which ran from late March to May, starred Academy Award winner Glenn Close. This year, Forrest Whitaker joined the show's cast.

But The Shield's numbers exceeded the average 2.5 million watchers it attracted during its third season, which FX president and general manager John Landgraf said showed the series still had some steam.

“We were really happy with its performance … it was the best season yet creatively, and it's remarkable that a basic-cable series performed better in its fifth season than it did in its third,” he said. “The fourth season, bolstered by Glenn Close, was substantially above the third season, so we were really happy with [this season's] performance.”

FX has commissioned 10 additional episodes of The Shield, starring Michael Chiklis, which will most likely air in January 2007. After that, the series' future is up in the air.

“Whether it goes beyond that is an unanswered question,” he said.

FX's first-quarter performance was also boosted by a strong debut for its reality series Black.White, which pulled a 3.3 household rating (4.0 million total viewers) and 2.8 million adults 18 to 49 to its March 6 premiere. But viewership for subsequent episodes has fallen precipitously: the March 13 show averaged a 1.4 rating (1.7 million viewers), while last week's episode drew a 1.3 rating (1.5 million viewers).

“It was an absolutely spectacular premiere, but the numbers subsequent to the premiere are right in line with what we estimated, which in turn is right in line with what we saw with 30 Days,” he said of the life transposition reality series.

Also boosting FX's ratings were strong performances from the network's acquired movie library, as well as from the off-network sitcom That '70s Show, according to Landgraf.

Next up: Thief, a six-episode ensemble show, starring Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Street), which begins Tuesday (March 28). After that Landgraf said the network will air one of two dramatic pilots currently in development: Lowlife, a crime family dramedy starring Eddie Izzard; or Dirt, a tabloid newspaper-based series, starring Courtney Cox.

That series will lead into FX's heavy-hitting summer lineup of returning dramas Rescue Me and Nip/Tuck, as well as sophomore comedy series It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia.

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